Sunday, November 02, 2014

Cheap Sainthood?

Of my many pet peeves, All Saints Day is one of them. Looking back through my blog roll, I found several posts on the subject.

One thing that bugs me is the way we read a LONG list of names of the dead, a list that seems to grow longer each year. This from my post in 2011,
"On this Sunday we recite a long list of the dearly departed. Names are submitted by the congregation and printed in the bulletin. I do not contribute to this list because I don't want to add any stumbling blocks to the impatient. My list this year includes ten names. If we average 100-120 people in attendance on Sunday, and each has ten people in mind, then the list to be read aloud would include 1000-1200 names."
Since we now appear to have less than 100 in attendance on most Sundays, my hypothetical list would only be 800 names long.

I know that I am a party pooper on this, but this thing can get way out of hand. Bishop Dan Martins of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield recently posted the following on Facebook which I believe supports my point,

"The celebration/observance of whatever is going on liturgically/socially at this time of year has gotten way out of hand, IMO, and this is primarily because we've lost track of how it all evolved historically and at the same time gotten confused theologically.
In brief ... way back in the day, every local church (read: diocese) had its favorite heroes and/or martyrs that it liked to commemorate on the anniversary of their death. In time, as these local churches shared their memories with one another, certain of these heroes/martyrs began to be commemorated more widely, even, in some cases, universally. After a while, the calendar got too crowded, so there was an impetus to pare it back. Let the local churches continue to celebrate their local heroes, but the larger church would focus on a chosen few (relatively). As a compensation, there would be a feast of *All* Saints.
Of course, there is a sense in which "saint" can refer to any baptized person, in this world or departed from it, but that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about heroes, those whose witness to the gospel has been of such magnitude that the community discerns them to have reached unimpaired communion with the Holy One and formally capitalizes the 'S' in 'Saint' in front of their name.
Of course, somebody eventually said, "What about my Aunt Sally and Uncle Joe? They were no super-Christians, but they were faithful and were good folks. Can't we remember them too?" And that's how we got All Souls' Day (November 2, unless supplanted by Sunday), the commemoration of All Faithful Departed. This is for Aunt Sally and Uncle Joe and others like them ... which is, in effect, all but a small percentage of the community of the baptized.
In short: All Saints Day is when we appropriately invoke the prayers of those presumed to have achieved the Beatific Vision. All Souls Day is when we offer our prayers on behalf of those who have gone on before us marked with the sign of the cross, but whom we guess might be yet on the Purgative Way. These are "the departed" for whom we are required by the rubrics to pray in every Eucharist.
Sadly, IMO, these two observances--the Principal Feast of All Saints and the optional commemoration of All Faithful Departed--have gotten conflated, sentimentalized, and trivialized in many people's minds and in the practice of many Christian communities.
And this lies behind my biggest objection to the RCL provisions for All Saints. The RCL has drunk the revisionist KoolAid and repurposed All Saints to a sort of Grand Funeral Liturgy. Just compare the relevant sets of readings and you'll see what I mean. But I'll stop the crank here."
Since +Martins brings up the "S" vs "s" saint problem, let me point out how this was handled in our rector's sermon today,
"Once you are baptised, you are all (S)saints."
We were not told if we are big "S" Saints or little "s" saints or whether or not there was any such distinction, but we were told that what we do with our God given (S)sainthood is a matter of our choice, and that there were "trillions" of us.

I suspect this is the expected result of living in a society in which little boys and girls play sports and in the end everyone gets a trophy.

This reminds me of my time with Pelagius, and perhaps my time with Huxley.

Call me a crank too, but Sainthood is both a title granted by man as well as a visible sign of the free gift of the grace of God having been received exceedingly well.

A world with trillions of Saints sort of lowers the value of Sainthood doesn't it? A world full of cheap Saints is almost like a world without heroes.

I think Gene Simmons of KISS wrote something about such a world being a "pointless thing devoid of grace",

"A world without heroes
Is like a world without sun
You can't look up to anyone
Without heroes
And a world without heroes
Is like a never ending race
Is like a time without a pace
A pointless thing devoid of grace
Where you don't know what you're after
Or if something's after you
And you don't know why you don't know
In a world without heroes
In a world without dreams
Things are no more than they seem
And a world without heroes
Is like a bird without wings
Or a bell that never rings
Just a sad and useless thing
Where you don't know what you're after
Or if something's after you
And you don't know why you don't know
In a world without heroes
There's nothing to be
It's no place for me"
Excuse me while I crawl back into my cave and remember my dear departed loved ones and pray that God holds them as dearly as he does the (S)saints.

1 comment:

  1. Next Sunday's lesson from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 should have been read this past Sunday.

    "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words."